The removal of most sanctions on Zimbabwe is diplomatic proof that the EU is looking beyond Mugabe, who turned 90, writes Dumisani Muleya.
Johannesburg - AS President Robert Mugabe celebrated his birthday this weekend, it was business as usual in most of the politically troubled country, buoyed last week by the EU’s removal of some of the sanctions against Harare.
But the removal of the sanctions, save for those remaining on Mugabe, his wife Grace and the arms embargo, shows the European Union’s economic interests have taken precedence over all other considerations, even though Mugabe and his regime will interpret this as a climb-down and a sign of surrender by Brussels.
Belgium, whose capital is the EU citadel where Mugabe will be on April 2 and 3 to attend an EU-Africa summit – much to the chagrin of fierce rivals in London – has especially been lobbying for the removal of sanctions to ensure Zimbabwe’s diamonds from the vast Marange mining fields are traded at Antwerp. This is now happening and it’s clear Belgium was driven by its own economic interest rather than by political considerations.
In fact, the reality is the EU states collectively and individually now feel they have lost out too much on investment in Zimbabwe, particularly in the growing mining sector where the country has a vast array of untapped minerals.
The EU remains Zimbabwe’s second-largest trading partner after South Africa. In the past four years trade between Zimbabwe and the EU improved, reaching a total of R8.7 billion as at the end of 2012, with the terms of trade being R2bn in Zimbabwe’s favour.
During the same period the EU poured at least R28bn in aid to Zimbabwe to minimise the impact of unintended consequences of the sanctions. The EU also donated 22 million textbooks through the Education Transition Fund to all primary and secondary schools, so that Zimbabwean children have books in all core subjects. More than half a million orphans and vulnerable children are able to access primary education by having their school fees covered. The EU also provided funding for health, supported 700 000 small-scale farmers, improved access to water and sanitation for more than 6 million people and funded some political programmes as well.
However, the underlying issue is that the EU now wants to normalise fully diplomatic relations with Harare for its own economic interests, something that will also benefit Zimbabwe if it also takes advantage of the new situation.
When I was on leave last month, I met a number of EU ambassadors based in Harare to exchange notes on various issues, including Brussels’s targeted sanctions on Mugabe and his cronies, as well as companies and entities associated with them. The ambassadors or senior diplomats are from the Scandinavian countries, Eastern and Western Europe and other regions of the world, including Africa.
We focused on the political and economic environment in Zimbabwe in relation to the restrictions.
My argument was simply that the EU needs to remove the measures, not because the situation in Zimbabwe has changed that much and democracy, human rights and freedom have been restored, but because they have become a liability to the extent that Mugabe now has an alibi for doing nothing or failing to competently and efficiently run the country.
Whenever Mugabe and his government have been unable or unwilling to do something, they have a pretext – sanctions. Just about everything that can or has gone wrong in Zimbabwe in recent years is dishonestly explained in terms of sanctions.
That is why Mugabe and his loyalists now claim the economy has been ruined by sanctions, even if everybody, including themselves, actually knows it’s mainly their corrupt and incompetent regime that has destroyed the economy.
EU targeted sanctions were imposed on Mugabe, his adherents and supporters, as well as companies associated with them on February 18, 2002. The measures were triggered by the expulsion of the EU election observer mission head, Pierre Schori, in the run-up to the hotly disputed 2002 presidential elections won by Mugabe amid accusations of intimidation, violence and vote-rigging.
This followed the conclusion of consultations held under Article 96 of the African, Caribbean, Pacific-European Community (ACP-EC) Partnership Agreement, or the Cotonou Agreement signed on June 23, 2000, in Cotonou, Benin.
Dealing with political and economic issues of mutual interest, the deal was concluded for a 20-year period from March 2000 to February 2020, and entered into force in April 2003. It was for the first time revised in June 2005, with the revision entering into force on July 1, 2008.
A second revision of the agreement was agreed to in March 2010. The measures included the suspension of financing of budgetary support and support for projects, as well as the suspension of the signature of the 9th European Development Fund (EDF) National Indicative Programme, but explicitly did not affect the contributions to operations of a humanitarian nature and projects in direct support of the population, in particular those in social sectors, democratisation, respect for human rights and the rule of law.
They also included the suspension of Article 12 of Annex 2 to the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement, concerning current payments and capital movements, in so far as required for the application of further restrictive measures, and in particular the freezing of funds.
EU reasons for sanctions on Mugabe and associated entities included “serious violations of human rights and freedom of opinion, association and peaceful assembly”.
A more immediate reason given for the sanctions was attempts by Mugabe’s regime to prevent free and fair elections, notably by refusing access to international election observers and for the media.
In other words, the Schori fiasco.
According to Article 2 (3) of the decision of February 18, 2002, the measures were to apply for a period of 12 months and be reviewed annually, depending on the situation on the ground, meaning the measures could be revoked once conditions prevail which ensured respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law.
So out of my discussions with diplomats, it became clear that there is now a policy shift in the EU with regards to Zimbabwe. This had been evident for a while now, particularly after the meeting of the Friends of Zimbabwe, an association of Western countries dealing with Harare, in London last March. A communiqué by the Friends made it clear they wanted re-engagement depending on the implementation of political reforms and the outcome of last year’s general elections.
Before that there had been a gradual scaling down on the restrictions. On February 17, 2012, the EU decided to remove 51 individuals and 20 entities from the visa ban and the asset freeze list in recognition of the implementation of the Global Political Agreement which allowed the creation of the Government of National Unity and progress made towards the creation of a conducive environment for the holding of free, fair, peaceful and transparent elections through the development of the road map sponsored by the Southern African Development Community.
At least 112 individuals and 11 entities then still considered involved in, or associated with, policies and activities that undermine human rights, democracy and the rule of law, remained on the list.
On July 23, 2012, the EU further suspended the measures applied under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement to allow itself to work directly with the Government of National Unity to develop new assistance programmes under the EDF.
After that, on February 18 last year, the EU, further encouraged by the political parties’ agreement on the new draft constitution and the announcement of a referendum, suspended travel bans imposed on six members of the government.
It also delisted 21 people and one entity. Following the constitutional referendum, the EU lifted sanctions on 81 individuals and eight entities.
So it became clear during my meetings with diplomats that the EU would further lift the remaining sanctions on everybody, except Mugabe and his wife Grace.
In fact, it turns out the arms embargo and restrictions on the Zimbabwe Defence Industries remain.
In its latest statement after further suspension of sanctions, the EU indicated it did not want the measures to have a negative socio-economic impact on Zimbabwe.
Of course, Mugabe and his people implausibly claim sanctions have cost Zimbabwe R459bn – a ridiculous figure 10 times bigger than the country’s 2014 budget.
While the EU might be concerned about the unintended consequences of sanctions, there is no doubt political and economic factors forced it to lift nearly all the measures.
The political and economic environment has changed, even though Zimbabwe still faces serious democratic and human rights deficits. The EU also realised the futility of maintaining restrictions which have not really achieved their objective: weakening Mugabe’s regime to a point of collapse or defeat.
Yet diplomats also made it clear they are now looking beyond Mugabe and thus the EU has decided to re-engage Harare to take part in Zimbabwe’s huge economic potential and position itself as a major player in the post-Mugabe era.
At the height of the sanctions, the Chinese, Russians, Asians and South Africans moved into Zimbabwe at the expense of EU states, particularly Britain, the former colonial power, which still has more foreign companies in the country than any other country, including the US, which has its own different set of sanctions on Mugabe and associated people and entities. The US sanctions also block funding to Zimbabwe in certain situations where the US has a say.
The removal of the sanctions last week is thus not victory for Mugabe as he and his cronies would have us believe, but a new era in which the EU and other global players are looking at Zimbabwe beyond the ageing leader.
It’s the right thing to do. At 90 Mugabe is highly unlikely to soldier on. If he does, he may die in power or even give up the remainder of his term, giving Zimbabwe the opportunity to move forward.
If and when that happens, the EU and other major players should be there, doing business as usual.
*Muleya is the editor of the Zimbabwe Independent.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.